On paper, the Commonwealth’s “Turning 22” law made logical sense to North Andover mom Kathy Keith.
Chapter 688, better known as the Turning 22 Law, was enacted in 1984 to provide a planning process for young adults with severe disabilities as they leave special education and transition into the adult service system.
In practice, however, Keith found that the law, which terminates school services on a student’s 22nd birthday, made families feel like they were “falling off a cliff.”
Keith’s son James, currently in the Turning 22 program, recently graduated from high school and began his post-high school program. The transition was natural and similar to any student’s going off to college. Over time, however, James would come home to report that classmates were disappearing from the program. These classmates were removed from the program as soon as they turned 22 years old, an experience Keith says the students found “confusing, scary and even traumatic.”
Keith came across other moms in North Andover who too were concerned about the difficulties their special needs children were facing with this transition.
In November 2016, the moms reached out to State Representative Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) to voice their concerns regarding the Turning 22 law. Their conversation and future meetings resulted in DiZoglio’s filing of legislation to allow adults with disabilities who turn 22 to continue receiving services through the end of the school district’s year.
House Bill 3476, An Act relative to school services for 22 year-old student’s transition to adult services, amends the Turning 22 law so adults with disabilities are not pulled from classrooms abruptly the day they turn 22, which is currently the law.
Both Keith and DiZoglio testified in favor of the legislation at a July 11 public hearing before the Joint Committee on Education.
“There is a greater deviation between the maturity and coping abilities of special needs adults approaching age 22,” said Keith. “This legislation recognizes this deviation by providing flexibility in allowing the option to transition to adult services upon turning 22 or at the end of the school year. I have discussed this legislation with staff at my son’s school, who agree it would maximize and even out the educational opportunities for our young adults with special needs, enabling all students to benefit from four complete years of a post-high school program.”
“As a mother of a child at transition age, I am very much in favor of a single graduation date for young adults turning 22,” said North Andover mom Barbara Talbot. “It has always seemed unfair and at times mean-spirited to have classrooms following a school calendar where young adults leave the day after their birthday throughout the school year. It is at minimum disruptive to have people leaving randomly through the year. Also, the population that this ‘birthday graduation’ effects are a group of people that may already have difficulty with transition and sudden change. It would make more of a typical and normal graduation experience by having a single graduation date at the end of a school year for a group of students together.”
“It’s tough and awkward for our children to transition mid-year because it’s not consistent with what they’ve been used to for years,” said North Andover mom Diane Hanley.
“My son has autism and is 19 years old,” said North Andover mom Mary Pallazola. “Continuing school until the end of the school year makes perfect sense.”
“Students with disabilities and their parents have expressed to me the difficulties they face with suddenly being displaced within the school year,” said DiZoglio. “One day, students are surrounded by their classmates and teachers and the next, they’re abruptly pulled out of class, without basic rites of passage that are known to help students transition into adulthood, such as the graduation ceremony. The goal of this legislation is to make the transition easier and less disruptive, giving parents and students the option so they are able to make the decision that best suits the needs of their family.”